A friendship and dating service in Newcastle that supports adults with learning disabilities and autism to extend their social networks has been keeping people connected during the pandemic.

Luv2meetU, which is run by national charity Hft, supports people to extend their social networks, develop and sustain meaningful relationships and improve their health and wellbeing. The Newcastle service was set up in 2017 and is one of ten branches across the country. After being unable to deliver their usual three events per week to their 70 members, staff have transformed a packed programme of outings into a virtual calendar that maximises the potential of video calling services and social media channels.

Activities on offer are driven by suggestions from members and are based around Facebook groups and instant messaging chats. Luv2meetU staff are on hand to guide conversation, supplying conversation starters in large, colourful text, prompting members to interact with each other about memories, likes and dislikes, and plans for the future. As well as providing a chance to socialise, the prompts have encouraged members to look after themselves by covering how they are staying fit and looking after themselves. This allows staff to monitor people’s wellbeing and check in with those who may be struggling with low moods or who might have a practical issue associated with the pandemic.

Through this programme, members are encouraged to stay connected, engaged and stimulated during a time when social isolation for people with learning disabilities is heightened. As well as facilitating group chats, the Luv2meetu team has set up over 15 events linked to a range of creative and educational activities. These range from drawing and photography competitions, to ‘rate my plate’ discussions and even online zumba classes. As well as maintaining social links, members have been given the chance to share knowledge on topics they are passionate about by creating five minute videos on topics such as the sign language alphabet and how to look after a puppy. For those with less access to technology, a pen pal scheme is available.

On top of facilitating entertainment and opportunities to socialise, Luv2meetU has also been offering a vital service to those most isolated. 20 adults across Newcastle have signed up to receive regular phone calls, where staff check in to see how they’re coping and ensure they have access to all the essential supplies. Keeping people informed about the pandemic has also been a priority, with easy to understand resources being shared regularly.

Karen England, Programme Coordinator at Luv2meetU, said:

“A key part of our work at Luv2meetU is adapting to members’ individual needs and making sure that we’re on hand to support them, whatever is happening in the outside world. At a time when people with learning disabilities might be feeling particularly isolated, it’s more important than ever to stay connected. We’re so pleased that our efforts to encourage people to socialise are proving to be successful.

“In Newcastle, a weekly quiz night attended by members, support workers and volunteers has been particularly popular, as well as one member showing off his musical talents with karaoke videos and another sharing technology reviews. We’ve also enjoyed catching up at virtual pub visits during video messenger group chats, which are so popular that they now take place every evening.”

Neil, who is a member of the Newcastle branch of Luv2meetU, said:

“There are lots of great activities, amazing company and it gives me something to really look forward to, Luv2meetU are like my family and are supporting me when I am stuck in the house as well. Luv2meetU have helped me a number of times and I am glad I have an event to look forward to a few times a week. Luv2meetU is a very enjoyable environment. I get to meet up with lots of nice people and do lots of great activities.”

If you are interested in joining or finding out more about the ways people with learning disabilities are being supported to during the pandemic through the Luv2meetu service please visit www.hft.org.uk/luv2meetu .

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About Hft

Hft is a national charity supporting more than 2,500 adults with learning disabilities across England and Wales to live the best life possible. Established in 1962, the charity uses its own unique Fusion Model to consistently deliver high quality, person-centred support across all its services.

Services range from supported living to residential care – from a few hours a week to 24 hours a day. Hft also helps people with learning disabilities to take part in daily activities, make friends and develop relationships and to find work.

For more information about Hft, please visit www.hft.org.uk

Information about learning disabilities

A learning disability can be mild, moderate, severe or profound and is defined as having a reduced ability to:

  • Understand new or complex information
  • Learn new skills
  • Live independently

For more information about learning disabilities, please visit www.hft.org.uk/resources-and-guidance